Old EPIRBs to Stop Working in 2009Thursday, May 01, 2008 2:11:00 PMLast updated: Thursday, May 01, 2008 2:11:00 PMCoast Guard urges quick replacement of 121.5 and 243 MHz satellite distress units.
— The Coast Guard is reminding boaters that after Feb. 1, 2009, only distress alerts from 406 MHz beacons will continue to be detected and processed by search and rescue satellites worldwide.

Older model EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) that transmit a distress alert on 121.5 MHz or 243 MHz will no longer be monitored by satellite, and are likely to go completely undetected in an emergency. Mariners disposing of their old EPIRB before Feb. 1, 2009 are urged to first remove the battery to prevent activation.

Although recreational boaters are not required to carry an EPIRB they are strongly recommended for all boaters venturing outside the harbor, along with a VHF-FM marine band radio. The 406 MHz signal sent by the newer EPIRBs when a mariner encounters distress is picked up by the COSPAS/ SARSAT satellite constellation, which determines the EPIRB’s position through triangulation. EPIRBs with embedded GPS are more helpful in quickly finding a distressed boater. With GPS coordinates, the position of distress is pinpointed almost immediately. Without GPS, it may take two or three satellite passes to come up with a good, triangulated position.

“As we say in the Coast Guard, 406 EPIRBs take the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue’,” said Capt. Chip Strangfeld, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “In some cases, the time saved by EPIRBs could mean the difference between life and death. For a one-time cost of under $900, a GPS embedded 406 EPIRB is ‘cheap insurance’ for those who put themselves at risk in the offshore environment.”

As long as the new 406 MHz beacon has been registered (which is required by law), search and rescue authorities can quickly confirm that the distress is real, who they are looking for, and a description of the vessel or aircraft. This means an effective search can be initiated even before a final distress location has been determined for non-GPS EPIRBs. It also means that a false activation may be resolved with a phone call to the beacon owner, saving resources for actual distress incidents.

This registration is free and can be done online at: www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov, by mail, or fax at (88 212-SAVE. Beacon registrations must be updated at least every two years or when information such as emergency contact phone numbers and other vital information changes. The registration information is only available to authorized search and rescue personnel.